Friday, March 13, 2009

Credit crunch pushes up charity demand

Local charities are reporting their services are needed more than ever as the impact of the credit crunch begins to hit hard.

Many charities in Bournemouth and Poole operate consistently in the background providing valuable community services.

The demand for services, including financial assistance, low-cost furniture or essential food, has increased particularly over recent months.

Poole Citizens Advice Bureau has recorded a 70% rise in debt related queries in the last six months, particularly from those who have lost work or had a reduction in their working hours.

There have also been a significant number of employment queries, according to Bureau manager Richard Bristow, with people wanting to know about legal entitlements if they are made redundant.

While there have been some reported cases of unfair dismissals during redundancy periods, he says most employers go through a detailed formal process.

"They can't just pick somebody they don't like. There has to be a process which is fair and equitable for all of the people that are affected."

A sudden loss of income can very quickly lead to rent or mortgage problems, both for landlords and tenants, he explains.

"Increasingly we are seeing people whose landlords are losing the property even though they as an individual may have maintained their rent to the landlord. The mortgage lender is then taking back the property, which happens to be rented out."

In extreme cases, rent or mortgage problems can leave a person homeless.

"G" is a volunteer with the charity Dorset Street Angelz.

He spent six weeks homeless a few years ago and says, "Having been there, you understand where people are coming from."

Volunteers or "Angelz" provide a twice weekly soup kitchen at St. Peter's Church Yard in Bournemouth.

The group also tries to get some homeless people back into accommodation.

On the first night, seven people attended their soup kitchen in St. Peter's Church Yard. This has risen to an average of between 21 and 23 people at each session with eight or nine regulars who come "without fail".

"G" explains how important it is for homeless charities to build up trust with people living on the streets.

"Without the trust you've got nothing. For about four or five weeks, I was dishing food out and talking about the weather and that was it."

People often find it difficult to understand why a person would remain homeless, he says.

"Why don't you get a job, get off your arse and do something about it?"

"G" says this is a common response and people do not realise how difficult it can be leaving behind their homeless friends.

Understanding why a person is homeless in the first place is crucial if you want to "help them on the track of going back into a house."

Dorset Street Angelz are currently discussing a befriending scheme with Bournemouth Council to aid the transition from being homeless to returning to accommodation.

The notion of befriending is shared by many charities, including the St Vincent de Paul Society, which has a number of branches or "conferences" in Bournemouth and Poole.

A volunteer said the society tries to befriend and help people in need and that they are expecting more cases of hardship as the recession continues.

She spoke about a local family which recently had to file for bankruptcy. A person who decides to declare bankruptcy is required to pay court fees. This is something which the society assisted with, she explained.

The Poole Food Bank provides food parcels to help people experiencing hardship. A manager with the organisation outlined how people through various circumstances might not have enough food or "can’t get kids stuff for their lunchbox".

She emphasised that the dignity of the people using the service is paramount and how even in crisis, it can be hard to ask for help.

Food parcels provided are not labelled ‘food bank’ because people who are experiencing hard times want to "blend into the crowd".

Another charity supporting people in financial difficulty is Dorset Reclaim which sells low cost furniture, electrical and household goods to people on low incomes.

Poole Depot Manager John Randall talked about the steady growth of the organisation and that they are definitely getting "busier and busier".

The charity operates four depots and relies on individual donations to provide the items they sell. All money raised is used to cover costs.

Click below for a video about the Citizens Advice Bureau.

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